Diabetes and COVID-19: Wake-Up Call for the Health SystemBy Andrea Villar | Wed, 01/27/2021 - 18:00
Diabetes is, without a doubt, one of the main ailments afflicting the Mexican population, said Héctor Valle, President of FunSalud, on Wednesday, Jan. 27, during the first virtual edition of Mexico Health Summit. This remains one of the most costly diseases for the country and the problem will only increase as the population in Mexico grows older and older.
In 2019, diabetes ranked as the second leading cause of death in Mexico. That same year, the country ranked among those with the lowest number of consultations per patient. "In the case of diabetes, there are only 893 endocrinologists in the entire country. We are talking about a country where between 12 and 14 percent of the population has diabetes," Valle said.
In addition to the lack of medical professionals, the expert emphasized, the distribution of endocrinologists is poor since Mexico City has more than 500 specialists in this field, while states such as Morelos have less than six. “It is difficult to think that doctors will move to other states because of the insecurity in the country. Access to an airport for those going to congresses in the US and Europe is not easy either,” said Valle. Between 2025 and 2030, the population with diabetes in the country is expected to reach 20 percent.
When the health crisis hit the country, health authorities warned that people with chronic diseases, such as hypertension or diabetes, were more likely to be at risk of presenting severe symptoms. “When they heard this, some people did not leave their houses and abandoned their doctors and treatments,” Valle explained. According to data from FunSalud and IQVia, 94.5 million units of medication for diabetics were consumed in 2018. In 2019, the figure rose to 99.6 million. However, in 2020, when the pandemic reached Mexico, the figure dropped to 95.6 million. The same study, conducted in weeks 0-46 of the pandemic, showed that at the beginning of the pandemic, half of the hospitalized patients with diabetes died. “The mortality rate dropped as the health sector learned how to treat these patients,” said Valle.
During the first months of the health crisis, Valle noted, INSABI was one of the most affected health institutions. IMSS, on the other hand, brought medicines to patients' homes. “New alternatives are still being sought out. The pandemic is not over and we have to find a way to not neglect these patients”.
The pandemic, however, could also mark a turning point in the treatment of chronic degenerative diseases, such as diabetes. “In the country, only 5.5 percent of the GDP is invested in health. When we underinvest, it impacts access to health,” said Valle. "Before the pandemic, access to health was complex. Now, unfortunately, it is clear that a completely different health model is needed. It is not only about medicines but also about infrastructure, human resources and diagnostics.” To meet these challenges, Valle said, FunSalud is betting on a preventive, personalized and participatory health system.
For an analysis on the impact of diabetes in Mexico, read this article.